Two female lawyers have been making great strides when it comes to securing rights for
women. You! takes a look Generally speaking, this lady is known for her work. Mrs Rashida Patel is the president of Pakistan Women’s Lawyers Association (PAWLA) and has also been the recipient of PAWLA’s `Life Time Achievement Award’. She has behind her a legacy when it comes to women’s rights. “Our mission is to create legal awareness to-wards redressing the loopholes/ gaps in the law regarding women; addressing women’s legal needs; imparting comprehensive knowledge about law relating to women in Pakistan; and to strive to empower women,” informs Ms Patel. Under her wing PAWLA has become extremely developed. It currently strives for women’s right, equality and equity by reaching out to women, ad-dressing their legal and economic issues. In addition, PAWLA is delivering professional and legal services, and economic counselling to Pakistani women. It is also actively involved in net-working with NGOs, the government and other concerned institutions. Rashida Patel has always been vocal against what she calls the `Black Laws’; laws which pre-vent women from reaching their potential and hinder their rights in the process. “These laws, such as the Hudood Ordinance, which were enacted during the Zia regime and his successors, really impede women’s way to emancipation. That is not all, Pakistan is a signatory to the UN Charter – CEAW (Convention for the Elimination of all Kinds of Discrimination against Women), and as such is bound to bring the laws of the country in conformity with this convention – so far, however, this has not been the case. We demand that the government abolish all discriminatory laws and practices against women,” she insists.
The problems do not stop at the inadequacy and at times prejudice of the law. Truly the situation is further complicated by the fact that women them-selves do not know anything about their rights. On the one hand, the laws have been interpreted in a way to benefit the male and victimize women but on the other hand women hardly know anything about the legal course of registering a case or hiring the help of a lawyer and following a court procedure.
They do not have access to counselling and also cannot pay the cost as they are mostly de-pendent on the males of their family. When it comes down to the implementation of the law, women do not have a clue as to what they are supposed to do.
Rashida is very critical of the tribal and feudal set up, in which women are looked down as inferior. It is due to this mindset that women in Pakistan are physically tortured as well as mentally and verbally abused. That’s why domestic violence is a common phenomenon and has been thriving despite the human rights activists’ hue and cry over it. No doubt, there are a number of women in Pakistan who have successfully made a mark in all walks of life be it economically, socially, politically, through sports or anything else for that matter. Many have even gone on to gain international recognition for their work; however, there has been no respite from crimes against women. Instead, the cases of abuse against women have increased over the years. Only the modus operandi has changed. To bring a change, Pakistan must do away with the discriminatory laws, particularly the Hudood Ordinance. As far as the Taliban-style Shariat is concerned, it has really damaged the cause of women. The women in the tribal and feudal set-ups are already exploited and the Taliban mentality has further added to their woes.
Rashida has also written a book titled `Woman versus Man,’ which discusses legalities concerning the Hudood Ordinance and Zina, family laws, abuse, marriage, divorce, adultery, maintenance of children, contraception and crimes of honour. It is an indispensable guide for lawyers and women. Eminently readable, containing several case studies and real life examples the book is an essential read for all.